The Canadian actress made a name for herself as Monica Hall, the nerd whisperer on HBO’s geektastic hit comedy Silicon Valley, but these days you can find her hanging with the jocks.
After training for a role as a wrestler in the film Chokeslam, Amanda Crew unexpectedly fell in love with weightlifting.
“It sounds cheesy, but it completely transformed my life,” says Crew. “A good weight-training session is incredibly empowering, especially if I’m having a bad day.”
A self-professed cardio queen, she had always shied away from the weight room. The notoriously male-dominated space was intimidating and she, like a lot of women, worried that lifting would make her body bulky. This myth was quickly busted when she saw just how much work it took to put on a little bit of muscle.
“I wear the same size jeans, but my whole silhouette has changed—everything is lifted up and pulled in. You’d have to lift a lot to ever get ‘big,’” says Crew.
She’s also learned to hold her own in a room packed with gym bros. “Before, guys would cut in halfway through my set and ask if they could use the machine for ‘just a second’—which always turned into a solid five minutes,” says Crew. “Now I have the confidence to claim my turf and not let a man steal my equipment.”
Working with celebrity trainer Seth Browning, she pays as much attention to her mental fitness as she does the physical, checking in weekly to discuss how she’s feeling and her relationship with food.
“Surprise, surprise—like most actresses out there—I’ve definitely had periods where I struggled with eating disorders,” Crew says.
Although she’s moved past those struggles, she credits Browning for taking her recovery to a whole new level. If she’s having a tough day, he talks her through it and forces her to confront her feelings head on.
“For me, it’s always been about control. If I feel overwhelmed, my brain wants to pick everything apart and move into action—usually with exercise or overhauling my diet,” says Crew. This kind of thinking is healthy for some people, but it’s the opposite for her.
“I realized I act to avoid, so I’m understanding my patterns and figuring out how to recognize when I’m doing [healthy things] for the right reasons or as an escape from something I’m stressed about,” says Crew. “Sometimes the healthiest choice is to skip a workout, relax and just be with myself.”
Slowing down isn’t easy with her Type A personality, but with a crazy schedule and 4 am call times, she knows it needs to be as much a priority as working out and eating clean. She’s recently taken up meditation and started indulging in little things like soaking in a warm bath. But her new favorite habit is writing in her gratitude journal.
Each morning, she writes down three things she’s grateful for, three things that would make the day amazing and a mantra for herself. At the end of the day, she writes down three amazing things that happened and what she would have done differently.
“It sounds so hooey-dooey, but having that time for reflection really shifts your energy and gives you a whole new perspective,” she says.
As Monica Hall on Silicon Valley, Crew is often the lone female in a guy-centric world. Going up against a bunch of seasoned male comedians hasn’t always been easy.
“The boys are all so funny, and I definitely had moments when I wondered if I was doing it right—especially in the first season—but everyone has been so encouraging. I’ve learned a lot,” says Crew. “I’ve gained a newfound confidence in my abilities and what I bring to the table.”
Between the weight room, her wrestling movie and Silicon Valley, you can’t help but wonder if she’s got a thing for breaking up boys’ clubs.
“Playing Monica has definitely brought out my inner feminist,” says Crew. “I’m drawn to female characters who are more than just the love interest. Women are complicated and flawed, and this needs to be reflected onscreen—so we’re not sending out this toxic message that women have to be perfect and can’t have these darker sides.”
Exploring this dark side is the inspiration behind frankbefrank.com, a website where she shares her passion for photography. The collection is primarily portraits she’s taken with black and white film, her preferred medium. “I love film because it’s raw, it has texture—there’s grit to it like in real life,” says Crew.
Her focus is capturing the true self. Not just the clean, polished version, but everything that makes someone who they are. “Of course I want to present people in a good light, but we all have a shadow side, and those are beautiful too.”
The pressure of perfection can be tough, especially in the age of carefully curated social media feeds. A quick scroll through Instagram can result in a shame spiral that leaves you feeling like everyone but you eats clean, has rock-hard abs and owns a magazine-worthy house—something Crew admits even she falls victim to.
“Fearless is my word for 2017,” she says. “I want to challenge myself to do things that scare me—including little things like being more vulnerable and admitting I don’t have everything figured out,” she says.
Weightlifting has been a great start. Seeing what her body is capable of has opened up a whole new way of thinking about what’s possible. Where she was once fixated on a number on the scale, Crew is now excited about seeing definition in her arms and the satisfaction she feels from crushing a tough set on the VersaClimber. “I can’t help but find myself thinking, ‘If this is what I can do in the gym, what else can I do in my life?’”
3 steps to being more fearless
1. Pick up the weights: “I want to scream this into a megaphone because more women should discover the benefits of weightlifting,” says Crew. “There’s nothing more empowering than seeing what your body is capable of.”
2. Quit comparing: “What I love about this journey is you start to understand your body more, and you realize the diet and workout that are right for you might not be what’s right for someone else,” says Crew. “We all have different body types, different strengths and weaknesses. Focusing on what is right for you and your body is the best way to achieve the healthy goals you want.”
3. Be mindful: “I won’t pretend I do it every day, but on the days I do meditate, I always ask myself why I don’t do it more often,” says Crew. “Ten minutes is all it takes. It’s a foolproof way to feel less stressed and more centered.”
Amanda’s favorite moves
Celeb trainer Seth Browning shares some of the circuit training exercises he uses to sculpt Crew’s fit physique. Once you’ve finished the list, rest for a minute or two before doing it all again—twice. These multitasking moves target multiple muscle groups to give you an ultra efficient sweat session.
Clamshell with Resistance Band
- Lie on your side with your knees slightly bent, legs and ankles stacked together.
- Rest one hand on your hip and the other on the ground for stability.
- Loop a resistance band just above your kneecaps, then open your knees apart and try to stretch the band as far as you can while keeping your feet together.
- Repeat 15 times on each side, holding the last rep for 10 seconds.
Goblet Squat Pulse
- Stand with feet just wider than hip-width apart, toes slightly angled out.
- At chest level, hold a dumbbell (10 to 25 lbs) vertically with both hands at the top end.
- Driving hips behind you, lower into a squat until you’re just past a 90-degree angle.
- Pulse up and down three times and return to standing.
- Repeat 15 times.
- Sit on a bench, hands at your sides gripping the edge of the bench.
- Move your butt off the bench, feet locked away in front of you so there is space between your back and the bench, about 6 to 8 inches.
- Straighten your arms, allowing for a slight bend in your elbows.
- Slowly lower your body toward the floor until elbows are almost bent at a 90-degree angle, squeezing your triceps.
- Lower down for eight counts, then squeeze up and hold for two counts.
- Repeat 12 times.
alive’s Editor-in-Chief Brendan Brazier caught up with Crew to find out 10 things you might not know about her, like how acting has helped her become a jigsaw puzzle-solving pro.
Q: Brendan Brazier: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
A: Amanda Crew: Just do it.
Q: Do you do any mental training?
A: Meditation, but I’m not going to lie to you and say I do it every day. And like most 12-year-olds, I journal. Daily.
Q: You like doing jigsaw puzzles of dogs underwater—can you give our readers any tips?
A: Always start with the border. Then focus on one color at a time. Don’t do it drunk.
Q: Do you think jigsaw puzzles could replace the adult coloring book?
A: Adult coloring books are pretty hot right now, but I feel like jigsaw puzzles are going to make a comeback soon.
Q: So you’re from Canada, eh? What’s that like?
A: Mainly full of igloos, toques, toonies and maple syrup.
Q: Did you know that Ryan Reynolds is also Canadian?
A: WAIT, WHAT?!
Q: What has acting taught you? Are the skills transferable to jigsaw puzzles?
A: Patience and perseverance. Which are obviously key to solving a jigsaw puzzle.
Q: When will you begin starring in action films? Cause you need to get on that.
A: Talk to The Rock and then let me know!
Q: What do you love most about your job? Dislike the most?
A: Love working with creative people. Hate being unemployed for most of the year.
Q: Any advice for aspiring actors?
A: Know who you are. Know what you want.
PHOTOS: Melissa Schwartz | MAKEUP: Danielle Piersons for Exclusive Artists | HAIR: Sunnie Brooks at The Wall Group